Published: June 1st 2012March 31st 2012
Hopefully my pictures will speak for me throughout this blog but I will do my best to describe this amazing country. After a whirlwind of packing, re-packing, and a long plane ride from Seattle, WA to the Dominican Republic (DR) I finally landed in the tropical and sticky climate of what was to be my new home for the next 5 weeks. It was a site to see 18 "gringos" congregating in the airport attempting to speak their first words of Spanish to each other. We arrived at the ILAC Mission center around 9 p.m. with large amounts of luggage and mosquitos in the air. We quickly became aquainted with the thin mattresses and large mosquito nets.
The next morning we arose, earlier than planned, to the farmhouse orchestra of cows, chickens, roosters, and who knows what else. We soon found out the no electricity in the morning would be a common occurance but the showers were hot and we had headlamps. The breakfast bell would ring at 7 a.m. The cooks were wonderful and we had many favorite meals that we gave our own names too since we weren't always sure what it was. Many dishes full of veggies,
fruit, and meat that was grown on the organic farm at the ILAC center. There will never be pineapple more sweet and delicious than in the DR.
The first day we were given a quicky and dirty lesson on how talk, act, and walk like a Dominican. We learned to say "Como tu ta?" to greet as a local. This would impress the Dominicans but would later get you in trouble as your next phrase would be "Mas despacio por favor" (slowly please). The transportation was similar to an amusement park ride by the speed and name of it. The "Guagua" (gwah-gwah) was much like a city bus but the vehicle resembled a 1980's Dodge Caravan with the sliding door removed. The "comodore", gentleman that took your money, rode hanging outside of the minibus holding on to the rim of the sliding door also called "suicide shotgun". It was always piled over capacity and you hoped that the driver was alert that day because anything and everything you can think of would be in the way at some point on your trip. Everyone on the guagua knew where the gringos lived and where they were going. The ILAC center
My nicely organized but and colorful mosquito nets.
was well known in the city of Santiago and that many missionaries and volunteers from the states lived there. The peso was 37 cents to the US dollar and it cost 25 pesos to ride the transportation. We managed to survive the first day completing a scavenger hunt around the city and making it back in time for supper at 6 p.m.
The following day we took a group tour of all of the clinical sites that included a few hospitals, a nursing home, a children's orphange, a couple outpatient clinics. There would be 2-4 students and 1 clinical instructor at each site. All of them quite eye opening compared to the medical facilities in the United States. People were crowded standing outside all of the buildings except for the orphanage that was behind metal bars with a guard at the front door. The orphanage was especially difficult to visit because many of the children have severe contractures and other impairments as a result of poor care and neglect.
The following morning we ate breakfast and by 730 a.m. dispersed to our clinical sites. Colie, myself, and our clinical instructor Laura were fortunate to have a taxi service
provided for us to and from the clinic which was about 25 minutes away in a town called Moca. Every morning we would have a cup of Dominican coffeee (which was delicious) and chat with the director of the clinic. This proved to be difficult but really forced us to practice our speaking skills and was a good game of charades when words we knew weren't enough!
The outpatient clinic was a fairly large and clean facility. You can see from the photos that it lacks much of the modern equipment that a US clinic would have. There is no documentation system (how nice) and HIPPA is an idea of the future. We kept our own records of the patients were treated and provided equipment to. It was extremely difficult communicating at first as patients had a hard time with our accents and we struggled to find a way to talk to them the way we would back in the US. There were 7 physical therapists that worked in the clinic rotating from the neuro related cases room to the ortho room. We quickly learned that the go to treatments were passive range of motion (moving a patients' extremity
without their help) and some sort of modality (heat, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation) that would make them "feel" better. They see a patient without any charted background or medical history. The therapists were great to work with and we all became great friends learning a great deal from them. We would also have a break for fruit or some sort of morning snack before leaving to go back at the ILAC center for lunch. We were treated like royalty and time is of no matter to the Dominicans when family or friends are around.
After lunch our afternoons were scheduled with more clinic time but at the ILAC center where patients who had been operated on by American Orthopedic surgeons would be seen for follow up visits along with other staff and employees at the ILAC who requested an appointment. Before dinner we would have Spanish class with a professor from the University in Santiago who was very fun and had a good time making fun our mediocre speaking skills.
On Wednesday of the first week the group took a visit to what is called a "Batey" which is not a French toilet but more or less a
slum inhabited by Haitians that are living as non-residents of the country and working at some of the large factories and other businesses outside of Santiago. They have very little but are very driven people who work hard to make money so that their children can attend higher education. They are very much discriminated against by the Dominicans and sadly many of the children are born in the Dominican Republic but cannot be citizens in the DR or in Haiti. The children loved to play with us and we had a ball running around with them. Our group returned several times to offer health services, bring medical equipment, and administer medicine to the kids.
At the end of the first week we departed to the "Campo" or countryside where villages are scattered about. It was about a 20 minutes bus ride from the ILAC center. One of our objectives was to put together a presentation (we each had groups of 5) for the trained Dominican health "professionals" that provide care for those far away from any healthcare facility. We presented these in Spanish to a large group that traveled to learn about the various subjects we were teaching on.
Our favorite spot to reflect.
My group focuses on general good health practices and exercise.
Many of the homes were one room houses but the Dominicans take much pride in keeping their homes clean and presentable to guests the same goes for their own appearance. Much of the time I felt like a dirty looking American. The communities enjoy having us visit and they prepared large meals for us and a party with cultural music and dancing. Groups of two stayed with a family and were provided a place to sleep. Bobbie Sue and I stayed with a family of 5 and worked very hard to bridge the communication barrier mostly by just having fun! Luckily laughing is universal! We participated in the Palm Sunday Church service enjoyed a wonderfully prepared lunch and then returned back to the ILAC that evening to prepare for another week.
There are more photos below